Penetration Profiles of Visible and Near-Infrared Lasers and Light-Emitting Diode Light Through the Head Tissues in Animal and Human Species: A Review of Literature

Photobiomodul Photomed Laser Surg. 2019 Oct;37(10):581-595. doi: 10.1089/photob.2019.4676. Epub 2019 Sep 25.


Background and objective: Photobiomodulation (PBM) therapy is a promising and noninvasive approach to stimulate neuronal function and improve brain repair. The optimization of PBM parameters is important to maximize effectiveness and tolerability. Several studies have reported on the penetration of visible-to-near-infrared (NIR) light through various animal and human tissues. Scientific findings on the penetration of PBM light vary, likely due to use of different irradiation parameters and to different characteristics of the subject such as species, age, and gender. Materials and methods: In this article, we review published data on PBM penetration through the tissues of the head in both animal and human species. The patterns of visible-to-NIR light penetration are summarized based on the following study specifications: wavelength, coherence, operation mode, beam type and size, irradiation site, species, age, and gender. Results: The average penetration of transcranial red/NIR (630-810 nm) light ranged 60-70% in C57BL/6 mouse (skull), 1-10% in BALB/c mouse (skull), 10-40% in Sprague-Dawley rats (scalp plus skull), 20% in Oryctolagus cuniculus rabbit (skull), 0.11% in pig (scalp plus skull), and 0.2-10% in humans (scalp plus skull). The observed variation in the reported values is due to the difference in factors (e.g., wavelengths, light coherence, tissue thickness, and anatomic irradiation site) used by researchers. It seems that these data challenge the applicability of the animal model data on transcranial PBM to humans. Nevertheless, two animal models seem particularly promising, as they approximate penetration in humans: (I) Penetration of 808 nm laser through the scalp plus skull was 0.11% in the pig head; (II) Penetration of 810 nm laser through intact skull was 1.75% in BALB/c mouse. Conclusions: In conclusion, it is worthwhile mentioning that since the effectiveness of brain PBM is closely dependent on the amount of light energy reaching the target neurons, further quantitative estimation of light penetration depth should be performed to validate the current findings.

Keywords: brain tissues; low-level laser (light) therapy; optical properties; penetration depth; skull; transcranial photobiomodulation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / radiation effects*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lasers, Semiconductor / therapeutic use*
  • Lasers, Solid-State / therapeutic use*
  • Low-Level Light Therapy / methods*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Animal
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Skull / radiation effects*